Worst ideas of the week: Nov. 15, 2009

Tobacco company controls corporation that helps smokers quit, hospital patients exposed to eight times normal radiation, and prime minister misspells killed soldier’s name.

1. No food zone
Phoenix church banned from feeding homeless
The details: You would think a church offering food to the homeless would be something that folks in the neighborhood could stand. Not in Phoenix. A judge reaffirmed a city ordinance that says CrossRoads United Methodist Church cannot provide meals to the homeless because the place of worship is in a residential zone. The church appealed under First Amendment and free-speech rights, but a judge disagreed.

2. Not so cool
Tobacco company hires corporation that helps people who want to quit smoking
The details: Joe Camel has a new partner. Reynolds American Inc., which makes Camel cigarettes, is buying Swedish company Niconovum AB, which sells cigarette replacement products in gum, pouch and spray form outside the U.S. Reynolds, which also makes Grizzly smokeless tobacco, may be eyeing more cigarette alternatives as the demand for cigarettes goes down as more taxes are piled on. With these companies dependent on Americans’ tobacco addiction, they won’t stop until all avenues are tapped.

3. Walking danger
SF area is No. 2 for pedestrian traffic deaths
The details: There are many great places to walk in San Francisco, and many visitors and residents seize the opportunity. Unfortunately, that also creates more chances for folks to run into danger. According to a study by Transportation for America, the San Francisco region — which includes Oakland and Fremont — has the second-highest rate of pedestrian traffic fatalities in the United States. About 27 percent of traffic deaths in the region are pedestrians. That number was surpassed only by New York.

4. Who’s listening?
Drug deal goes down with cops listening
The details: Don’t you hate it when your cell phone accidentally dials a number? Well, now imagine how two men in Yukon, Okla., feel after they were conducting an exchange of a large quantity of drugs while a cell phone in a coat pocket accidentally hit 911. At first, the police thought it was another accidental call, but after remaining on the line for a while, they realized what was happening. Police were able to use 911 mapping technology to pinpoint the deal’s location. After knocking on the door, the two men were found with a stash of Xanax, Hydrocondone, Oxycontin, Ecstasy and marijuana, along with $20,000 in cash.

5. Pay for grades
North Carolina school boosts test grades for cash
The details: This had to be a student’s dream. Following a dismal candy sale last year, a parental advisory committee at Rosewood Middle School in Goldsboro, N.C., this year came up with the not-so-bright idea of allowing students to make a $20 donation to the school and in return receive 20 points they could apply to two tests. In essence, grades could go from a B to an A. The school board quickly quashed the ploy, erased the grade boost and asked that the donations be returned. Maybe the candy sale wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

6. Unearned income
Wall Street bonuses rise
The details: Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase & Co., the three largest banks to leave the government bailout program, plan to give out a record $29.7 billion in bonuses to top employees — a 60 percent increase from last year. In a slight nod to concerns about accountability and tying pay to performance, more of the bonuses will be given in stock and deferred cash payments.

7. How could you forget?
Woman found driving 3-month overdue rental car
The details: A Long Beach woman was arrested in Burlingame this week after officers determined the car she was driving was a rental that was supposed to have been returned three months ago. Twenty-one-year-old Aprilyn Tuazon­ — who was staying in a Red Roof Inn at the time of the arrest — offered no explanation for why she had not returned the vehicle, police said.

8. User error
Hospital exposed patients to radiation overdoses
The details: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center exposed 206 patients to radiation overdoses during brain scans used to diagnose strokes, because of an error in setting the machine. Many of the patients, who received eight times the necessary radiation, lost patches of hair as a result. The hospital, which is still investigating how the error occurred and remained undetected, has established new procedures for checking and resetting the scanner’s configuration, and said it greatly regrets the error.

9. Bulldozer nudge
Construction boss ‘nudges’ slow worker with backhoe
The details: Prosecutors in Duluth, Minn., charged the co-owner of a construction company with assaulting one of his workers by driving a backhoe into him. The criminal complaint said the accused told investigators he didn’t want to hurt the victim; he just wanted to “nudge” his employee because he didn’t think the work was being done right. The victim sought treatment for bruises in an emergency room, but had no broken bones.

10. Ruff living
Woman accused of running a canine ‘concentration camp’
The details: A Long Island, N.Y., woman was arrested after police discovered the remains of at least 20 animals behind the woman’s house. The investigation was prompted after police received a tip that the backyard smelled liked death and looked like a grave site. Neighbors feared that their lost pets were buried among the debris. “Going into this was like a house of horrors,” Chief Roy Gross, of the Suffolk County SPCA said. “This is one of the worst cases of animal abuse I have seen.”

Dim bulb of the week: Gordon Brown

What: The British prime minister is in hot water over bad handwriting.

Why: Doctors are famous for their poor handwriting, especially when it comes to prescriptions. But Brown has gotten himself into a spot of trouble with his sloppy penmanship. In scribing a letter to a mother of a soldier killed by a bomb in Afghanistan, Brown allegedly misspelled the son’s name on some references. Brown denied the accusation. The personal touch is nice, Gordon, but make sure it can be read properly.

Sinking ship

The California State University system is seeing a record increase in applications this fall, just as budget cuts are forcing the system to reduce its student body by 40,000 over a two-year period, Chancellor Charles Reed said this week. The system’s universities cut about 4,000 students from its enrollment this fall, and plans a reduction of 6,000 more students in the spring 2010 semester. But demand remains higher than ever. Preliminary numbers show a 53 percent increase in applications this year compared to the same time last year.

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